Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: Black Widow: Forever Red

Black Widow: Forever Red Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is just the beginning of what promises to be a super-duper amazing new world of Marvel YA. Not only do we have this new series from Stohl in the works, but a number of other books, likely interconnected with this one. I'm especially looking forward to Eoin Colfer's planned Iron Man book. And my new dream is to one day put my fanfic skills to good use and join this team of writers and put out an excellent original novel for Spider-Man.

For now, though, this new Black Widow adventure is an excellent taste of what's to come. I'm not sure if this is to be considered part of the MCU's canon, but even if it's not, it's still got the right storytelling trappings for it. It's an origin story for two teens who, like Natasha Romanoff, were trained in the infamous Red Room, but brought away from that place and taken to America instead. Inevitably, trouble follows them - trouble which they cannot hope to defeat without the help of our beloved Black Widow (and an assist from Tony Stark, of course, because he's just cool like that.) And with that, we the readers are treated to a whirlwind, kick-ass world tour of high action.

It's a great, great book, which goes highly recommended by me. My one issue, though, was the ending, which eerily echoed that of Idols in the worst possible way. I'm still not happy with Stohl for killing off Ro Costas, and now she's gone and done the same to Alex - after revealing that he's Nat's brother too! Of course, this is Marvel, and if they can bring back the Son of Coul...but somehow, I suspect that's not going to happen, short of someone writing a fanfic about it. Which I'm sure my readers will NOT trust me to do, not after I had the balls to kill off a fan favorite in Spider Soulmates...Still, though, I'll be swimming in the Ballpit of Denial, because the idea of Nat having a brother...I'm gonna say Stohl wasted a perfectly good character.

And now...I need the sequel.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: Project Sparta

Project Sparta Project Sparta by BB Gallagher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Boy Nobody...move aside.

Wattpad is where I found this full-tilt YA spy piece, and you can read it there for free. I guarantee, you'll have no trouble gobbling this story up. I mean, you should see the way I ran through the last ten chapters or so when they were uploaded pretty much all at once. Between the Arrow-style anachronic storytelling, and the high-stakes spy action a la Mission: Impossible or Sigma Force, this little book is tailor-made for people like me.

And it looks like Gallagher's got a sequel planned - either that, or it's just wishful thinking on my part. If there is a sequel, though, I really hope it also shows up on Wattpad, since my ebook budget is still all of zero bucks...

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: Depraved Heart

Depraved Heart Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to wonder - did Cornwell read Gone Girl before writing this book? Because the vibe I'm getting from the dreadfully detestable antagonist of this book is that she fancies herself the next Amazing Amy. She's not quite as loathsome as Gillian Flynn's creation, but she comes very close to it. Maybe it's because Carrie dishes out a little more physical abuse than Amy does, as opposed to working largely on the psychological-abuse front. Still, I hated her, so I think Cornwell got that right, at least. It's definitely her most memorable book in a while for it, that's for sure.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: After Alice

After Alice After Alice by Gregory Maguire
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Splintered this was not. What a disappointment this book was - I only got through about 100 meandering pages or so (with almost no mention of Alice - I mean, seriously?), about as much as I did for another dreadful Carroll retelling (Alice In Zombieland) before giving up on this exercise in time-wastage.

And then, having clicked on this book's GR page for the first time to leave this review, I've discovered that it has an abysmally low average rating. I guess I'm not the only one becoming a badling over this book (if you don't know what that means, you need to brush up on your Ksenia Anske.)

This was actually my first Gregory Maguire book - and now it's almost certainly gonna be the last, too. Well, maybe I'll still find it in me to try Wicked someday. But hey, I'm gonna have to get past how boring and badling-making this one was first.

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Review: Playing with Fire

Playing with Fire Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gerritsen does something a little different for this one, seemingly taking cues from Schindler's List and The Shining, not to mention M.J. Rose's Reincarnationist books (though thankfully minus the ridiculous, cloying use of the perfume motif that pervaded Rose's books starting with the fourth in the series). Instead, Gerritsen uses a particularly creepy piece of music to set up the thrills and chills in this book - a piece which you can hear on her website for free, if you care to Google it. And yes, the Incendio waltz is the stuff of nightmares, mostly because of the keening high notes the violin reaches. Has Gerritsen heard the theory that high-frequency tones can cause premonitions? Maybe that was another influence on the writing of this book. Who knows?

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: Zom-B Fugitive

Zom-B Fugitive Zom-B Fugitive by Darren Shan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the penultimate Zom-B book, Darren Shan went and saved what might very well be the most shocking plot twist this series has yet, and probably will ever have. No, I won't spoil it here, but it's the biggest game-changer by far in this series. Every single word of Chapter 12 - all three of them - will have you doing spit-takes, or losing food from your mouth, or perhaps losing air from your lungs if you're especially unlucky.

You've been warned.

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Review: The Murder of an Angel

The Murder of an Angel The Murder of an Angel by James Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was expecting a wild and insane finale for the Confessions series. Maybe it didn't exactly fit the bill, but other than the surprisingly limited action, this fourth and last book was a satisfying conclusion, if only because it finally brings the Angel family drama full circle. The sci-fi elements popping up in books 2 and 3 are toned down somewhat (even though those were what I most enjoyed about those books, it's okay that this book is a little bit more grounded in reality, despite the continued use of dream sequences and forced commitments for Tandy to give this series an urban Gothic feel.) The romance is largely gone too, because let's face it, Tandy and James are through after his cheating on her (and props to her for not immediately seeking another shoulder to cry on, because I'm sure even without the pills influencing her mood or lack thereof, it would be out of character for her to need a cuddle monkey that badly.)

It's pretty sad that this year saw the endings of four of my favorite Patterson YA series, but I can always hope the man comes up with another one. And hey, the preview of First Love at the back of this book looks pretty interesting, to say the least.

Friend, this is my time to say ave atque vale.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Review: The Sword of Summer

The Sword of Summer The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The last line of the blurb for this book automatically made me think of one of my all-time favorite shows, Dead Like Me, and a key scene detailing the (spoiler) death of its main character. You can witness that scene for yourself here. (you might wanna turn up the volume 'cause the sound sucks)

As wonderfully well-imagined as Dead Like Me was, though, I'm a little more inclined to believe in Valhalla as depicted by Rick Riordan. And holy crap, does this book bring his multiverse of mythology roaring back to life, or what? Whereas The Kane Chronicles and The Heroes Of Olympus had a little something lacking in their first novels (especially compared to The Lightning Thief), the first Magnus Chase adventure is one I seriously, seriously wish had been around when I was in middle school.

Once again, we've got a classic First Person Smartass narrating the tale - Magnus and Percy should get jobs inventing chapter titles for all future novels, and all the other heroes of all the other books will be borrowing their jokes until Ragnarok. Once again, Rick Riordan does a great job balancing gleefully immature, and often gleefully pop-cultural, humor with an unusually dark backstory for our hero - one involving dead and/or missing people that makes Magnus' story DNA even closer to Harry Potter's than that of Percy, if you can believe that - and the sort of madcap action-adventure insanity I don't think we've seen since the original PJO series (it helps that we're treated to a pretty whirlwind tour of the Nine Realms, which means I had to really work hard to keep track of where Magnus had gone - in a good way, of course.)

Oh, and let's not forget the titular Sword of Summer himself. Yeah, I said "himself." He's got even more personality than Percy's famous pen-sword Riptide (whom the Sword of Summer actually makes fun of at one point - I don't wanna assume they must know each other, both being swords and all, but...) He's an instant favorite character of mine for so many reasons, including his repeated arguments with Magnus about names.

One day, I hope, I'll be a famous writer too, with my name mentioned in the same sentence as greats like Rick Riordan. This book is proof of his amazing talent, and I can't wait for the next big, bombastic, blockbusting Magnus Chase book!

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Review: The Tattooed Heart

The Tattooed Heart The Tattooed Heart by Michael Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we have a book that continues its predecessor's use of weaponized fear and divine punishment, neither for pleasure nor profit. However, while the recipients of these divine punishments so very much deserve them (I'm really looking at Trent and Nicolet, some of the most nasty characters Michael Grant came up with who weren't the Gaiaphage or Drake), redemption is the more important theme of The Tattooed Heart. Everyone deserves a chance to set things right, and for many characters in this book, that chance comes along sooner than they think.

The ending of this book proves to be quite a game-changer, setting the stage for a totally revamped series come Book 3. I hope that our Servants of Isthil are capable of delivering on the promise - and knowing Grant, they most likely will.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Spidey In His First Life - A No-Budget Cosplay

Disclaimer: I'm not actually Spider-Man, nor am I Andrew Garfield. Either that, or I'm his split personality who thinks he's an American YA writer struggling to get published. XD

Lacking money or talent for designing cosplays, I went the no-budget route on this one - easy, considering Peter and I are geekboys with fairly similar wardrobes. Using this pic from TASM 2 as inspiration...

...I simply took clothes I already had and put them together in the right combination. Only one person IRL knew who I was, though. But maybe the intarwubs can do a better job of that. One day, I might just show up at Comic-Con or something dressed exactly like this. :D

The result, I hope, gives all my Pinecones some always-needed amusement. :D

Review: The Rose Society

The Rose Society The Rose Society by Marie Lu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Since I imagine Chloe Bennet to be Adelina, I'll start with a quote from Agents of SHIELD which I think could accurately apply to Adelina:

And apply it does after the ending of this book, which is not only Marie Lu's self-admitted darkest one yet, but also her most balls-to-the-wall insane. Respect to Ransom Riggs, but The Young Elites is quickly rising up in the ranks to become my new favorite YA series.

Most of the credit, of course, goes to Adelina. For the last year or so, I've been hearing so much from Marie Lu about how Adelina's the bad guy all along. True, she's starting in the first book as a dark anti-heroine, but against super-despicable villains such as Giulietta and Teren, but this book is where she really sinks into the darkness in so many ways. The most common comparisons for this series are to the likes of X-Men and Game of Thrones, but now we can throw another one into the mix - Breaking Bad. I haven't finished that show yet, but I understand that its primary purpose was to start with Walter White as the protagonist and turn him into the antagonist? By the end of this book, that's precisely what's happened to Adelina as well. I spent the longest time having Adelina as my Draco In Leather Pants, but her actions at the very end of the book - some of them are just plain unforgivable. Bringing Enzo back from the dead - about bloody time! - was great, and gloriously tricking Teren into killing Giulietta was just awesome, but that last scene with Violetta? Nope nope nope nope. :(

It's safe to say I'm rooting for someone else to win this war now. Preferably Raffaelle - who needs to be upgraded to a first-person narration for the third book, stat. :)

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Review: Career of Evil

Career of Evil Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seeing the blurb for this book made me have this reaction:

Reading this book made me have this reaction:

In some ways, this book was less intense than the impossibly disgusting, Hannibal-level grossness of The Silkworm. On the other hand, Galbraith's third benefits from taking a look into the dark personal histories of both Strike and Robin - specifically, the fact that they both have violent crime in their pasts - because it helps us, the readers, know a little more about why they're in this line of work. And, in between all that, we're treated to another warped, bizarre world, mostly linked to Strike, with the worst side of rock and roll fandom involved. I might just find myself listening to a lot of Blue Oyster Cult after reading this book, just to get a better idea what this killer likes. It might just be the best serial-killer soundtrack since "Orinoco Flow" appeared in the 2011 Dragon Tattoo movie. Also, I might just find myself attempting to perfect my Cumbrian accent now - which, as it stands at the moment, is the unholy love child of Cockney and Scottish. Is it one of those accents that's impossible to fake if you're not a local? Maybe it is, but now I gotta try, don't I?

Now to sit back and wait for the fourth Strike's gonna be another great one, I'm sure. This author cannot fail, I don't think. :)

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Starling City Storm: Metahuman Therapy Session

Right now I'm again working on my pettest of pet projects, White Shadows - but today, I spent most of my waking hours thinking about the future of Starling City Storm, because it seems, based on my most dedicated Spidey & Speedy fan's responses, that the story's getting better. And in the future of SCS is a scene where Barry and Peter finally get a chance to talk about their pasts and learn how much they have in common. Especially when it comes to certain childhood tragedies.

I get way too much mileage out of this GIF already.
Judge me.
Okay, now I'm crying. :'(

And now, you can read a brand-new scene, soon to appear in Starling City Storm, in which Barry narrates how he and Peter come to bond over said childhood tragedies. Which

Super speed gives me a super metabolism. Super metabolism makes me need to raid Ollie's fridge after everyone else is in bed. God, I thought those days were long behind me, back when I was a lanky, awkward young dude who routinely ate Joe out of house and home and never, ever gained weight. Not that I hadn't tried - I used to hate being so skinny. Teen me looked like a starving, overgrown bird. Or like that guy who plays Tris Prior's brother. Now that I've had a chance to fill out some, though...

Inside the fridge is a wide variety of food and drink to be had. I'm delighted to discover among them a case of Ianto's Soda, a Starling-based brand that used to be sold in Central City but is now very hard to find. Shame - I used to drink their stuff all the time when I was a kid, because they came in fun flavors you literally couldn't find anywhere else.

"Couldn't sleep either, huh?"

Thank God I didn't pick up the soda bottle - I would have dropped it for sure, Peter's surprised me that much. I whirl around and see him standing on the other side of the kitchen island, rubbing his bare forearms and shivering.

"I think your hoodie should be dry by now," I say, pointing to the improvised clothesline Ollie created for us after he brought us to his place. During and after our encounter with Malcolm on Salish Dam, everyone's outer layers got snowed and rained on like nobody's business, so he got a fire going in the fireplace and used the heat to dry our clothes out.

Peter crosses to the clothesline and selects his charcoal-gray hoodie, zipping it up tightly to ward off the chill seeping into the apartment from the rainy night outside.

"Yeah, sleep is pretty hard to come by for me too," he says. "Blame it on my age, or lack thereof. Even when I was normal and powerless, my circadian rhythm had a seriously irregular time signature. Like a Rush song."

"You didn't always have powers?"

"Yeah, yeah, sure. Perish the thought."

The fridge is still open, chilling my backside something fierce, so I quickly grab two bottles of Ianto's and pass one across the island to Peter. "You want it?" I ask.

He turns on a single light above the island and then looks askance at the bottles and the fluorescent green liquid within. "I'm not a Mountain Dew kind of guy, sorry."

"This isn't Mountain Dew," I laugh. "It's green apple soda. My old favorite."

Intrigued, Peter approaches the soda tentatively, like it's a pitbull or something. He opens the bottle, takes a sip, then smiles. "Mmm. Delicious."

"They make it organic and all-natural," I say. "100% fruit juice, real sugar, and clean Washington spring water."

"Why does this not exist in New York?"

"Guess it's just a West Coast thing." I take a seat across the island from Peter. "So, you were saying?"

"What about?"

"About not always having your powers?"

Peter's eyebrows draw together for a moment. "Not much to tell, really," he says. "Basically, what happened is, I went to Oscorp Tower and got myself bitten by a spider one day."

"Not just any spider, was it?"

He shakes his head, "They were using them for all sorts of experiments. Genetic engineering, and a bunch of cool real-world applications that, for whatever reason, never really got beyond the concept stage." He bends back two fingers on one hand, touching the webshooter that's always clipped to his hoodie cuff. "Such as."

"Can I see that?" I ask, out of curiosity.

"You can, but may you?" Peter laughs before passing the webshooter to me. "Be careful with it - the trigger's pretty sensitive."

While I turn the little device over in my hand a few times, looking closely at the loose strands of sticky webline trailing from its business end, Peter continues talking. "Do you know how I first became famous as Spider-Man?"

"I think so," I say. "Something about you using your webs to hog-tie a bunch of petty criminals and pretty much hand-deliver them to the NYPD?"

"Mm-hmm. But most people don't know how it all started."

I look up to see Peter looking down and off to the side. Smelling tragedy ahead, I nevertheless advise him to continue. And continue he does.

"I started out doing the vigilante thing, kinda like Oliver, but all my targets were small fry, like you said. The reason for that was 'cause...see, I was looking for one guy in particular."

"What kind of beef did you have with him?"

Peter doesn't respond for the longest time - that's how I know I've touched a nerve. After taking another drink of soda, I'm about to apologize, but before I can, he says, "He killed my uncle."

"Oh my God," I whisper, putting down the bottle. "Oh...I'm so sorry."

"It's all right," Peter says in a tone of voice that completely contradicts his words. "I-I spent such a long time trying to find this guy and get my revenge, but that was before...before I started dating Gwen. She helped me find myself, you know? And...I mean, I never did find Uncle Ben's killer. Nor do I expect to, really. But..." His voice trails off, and when it comes back, it's thick with tears. "Wh-When I was still looking for...for that guy, I just wanted to hurt him so bad. Hurt him like he'd hurt me. I-I-I already lost my parents; I couldn't handle that pain again..." He wipes the tears off his cheeks, then folds his hands in front of his face, his thumbs poised to dry his eyes again. "And the worst part was, I-"

"You lost your parents?"

He looks up again, startled, his eyes wide and sparkling with more tears. "They died in a plane crash when I...when I was four. My aunt and uncle raised me after that...and my uncle died just last year. And I let it happen. His killer...I-I watched him rob a convenience store, and I didn't do anything to stop him. So he ran out onto the street, ran into Uncle Ben, and they got into a fight..." He draws a shuddering breath, and when he's able to talk again, his voice is more broken than ever. "I watched him die."

Only a second passes before I get up from the table, come around to Peter's side, and lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. "You''re not the only one this has happened to," I say. "When I was eleven, the Reverse Flash killed my mom right in front of me." I don't bother telling him about how I recently went back in time to say goodbye to her before she died, and also to bring my younger self to safety. I don't want him to think I was the lucky one. Neither of us was. "They thought my dad killed her. He didn't, but he's still been in prison for almost fifteen years."

Peter shrugs off my hand and slides off his chair, only to turn around and hug me. "Yeah, that's all right," I say, patting him on the back as I return his hug. "Just let it out. You're not alone, Peter. From what I've heard, you never were."

He nods, still crying into my shoulder for a few seconds. Then he lets go of me and takes his seat again, spending a while downing his soda. "That's actually my worst fear," he says.

"What is?"

"Being alone. Having no one to love, to care about, to trust with your life."

I can't help but laugh lightly as a tasteless joke, one that might very well offend my one-man audience, occurs to me. "Funny, and I thought I had the worst possible worst fear."

"Which is what?"

I crack a smile. "Spiders."

We both end up crying tears of laughter that, no doubt, wake up everyone else in the apartment. In which case, who cares? We're having ourselves a little metahuman therapy session, dammit!